Doing the Right Thing for Your Customers

If you’re doing the right thing for the customer, then it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.

rulebookThe last “real job” I had before I left the corporate world to start my own company, was in the field of Quality.

I ran an organization that was responsible for quality for the Research and Development group of a very large manufacturer of telecommunications equipment.

And one of the most important things that my group and I promoted was the consistent and judicious use of processes. And not just notes, or a sequence you kept in your head, but rather, formal, well-maintained, and documented processes.

Processes are good. They let you present a unified and consistent face to your customers, clients, or members. They ensure that someone calling your office on Monday gets the same information, presented in the same professional manner, as they do on Friday. And if there is a problem, it can almost always be traced back to a deficiency or omission in the process, to the process not being followed, or to the fact that there is no process in the first place. And yet, despite my almost zealous support for having well documented processes, there are actually times when it is permissible – even desirable – to go “out of process.”

Some companies get this. When doing a series of customer-service workshops for one client, a local chain of hardware and home improvement stores, one of the employees described a situation that occurred in his store. It seems there was a $2.00 rebate on bags of potting soil, and one customer came up to the register to check out with four bags.

No problem, there wasn’t a limit. But there was a hitch: the cashier couldn’t find any of the rebate forms. So she asked the customer to wait while she sought out a manager to find out what to do.

Unfortunately, the manager was nowhere to be found, and after about eight minutes, she returned to the register which, by this time, had a line of people waiting, along with the original customer. She explained that she couldn’t find the rebate coupons and that if the customer would provide his name and address, she would send them to him at a later date.

When she described this problem, I offered what I thought was the obvious solution: open the drawer, hand the customer the $8.00 in rebates, and leave a note explaining what she had done.

No sooner did I suggest this then her eyes practically popped out of her head, and she said nervously exclaimed that if she ever did that her manager would fire her on the spot. When I told this to the president of the company in a separate meeting, he immediately recognized that there was a communication problem. If anyone was fired for taking proper care of a customer, then she would be hired back and the manager would be gone. And we made sure this was communicated clearly in the remaining training sessions. Because this is a very sound approach.

My philosophy throughout my corporate career, and into running my own company, has been this:

If you’re doing the right thing for the customer, consistent with the values of the company, then it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.

What this means is that when the process prevents you from doing what you know is the right thing for the customer in a particular situation, then you should avoid the process, tweak the process, or, in some cases, ignore the process altogether.

This was my mantra when I worked for the large telecom company.

The bottom line is that you need to have a process. But you need to have a brain too! And if you’re not going out on a limb for your customers every once in a while, then maybe you’re not doing your job well enough.

Of course, I’m not talking about flagrantly violating your organization’s policies – I certainly don’t want to get into the job placement business, but rather, being alert for opportunities to do the right thing on the spot and fix the process afterwards.

Are there opportunities to demonstrate flexibility in your processes? Are your people trained to make decisions? This can make the difference between long-term relationships and one-shot deals.

About the Author

Ron Rosenberg is a nationally recognized, award-winning expert on marketing and customer service.

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